Nov. 16, 2019 — There are a lot of things we’re proud of as Oregonians, such as the scenic beauty we are constantly surrounded by.
And our generally progressive thinking on important issues.
Yet, amid all the things about Oregon that make us proud, there’s one thing I find it hard to admit about my beloved state. While homelessness has declined around the nation, Oregon continues to have the highest percentage of homeless families with children.
Between 2017 and 2018, the number of homeless families decreased in 41 states across America while, here in Oregon, we experienced a 2.5 percent increase — the fifth highest in the nation, right after California.
According to a report released last November by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), more than half of Oregon’s homeless families (60.5 percent) are without shelter, either living on the street, in cars or in tents within that “scenic beauty” I mentioned earlier.
As much as we want to tell ourselves that most of the homeless are drug addicts, criminals or suffering from mental disorders, the fact is that more than half of the homeless living without shelter in Oregon — more than 7,000 — are either school-aged or displaced veterans.
Before we can truly address the issue of homelessness, we must be willing to understand that the majority of those who are living their lives without a home aren’t those on the street whose faces we often avoid or don’t recognize.
In truth, more often than not they are those whose faces we do recognize each day — but who never say a word about their homelessness.
They are mothers and fathers, sons and daughters. They are students, cooks, part-time employees, unemployed veterans and senior citizens faced with deciding between medication, food or shelter.
By stereotyping the homeless as addicts or criminals, we insulate ourselves from the true reality of homelessness, and how close we all are from a life without shelter.
Nearly half of Americans live less than two paychecks away from the kind of financial crisis that could lead to homelessness.
That’s not the kind of stereotype we want to think about, but one we must be willing to accept in order to affect the kind of change that will, in turn, change the lives of so many of our homeless in Oregon.
While the bigger solution to solving homelessness in Oregon will require more than donations of food and clothing, our willingness to acknowledge the homeless in our community by offering support is an important step toward achieving something else we can all be proud of as Oregonians.
Here in Florence, the city is taking steps to address a fundamentally important aspect of homelesness through housing code changes that will allow a broader definition of home building standards and regulations.
The final reccomendations regarding those changes, such as auxilary dwelling units (ADUs) and multi-use developments combining commercial and residential space, will be unveiled this Monday, Nov. 18, at Florence City Hall, beginning at 5:30 p.m., in a joint meeting between the city council and planning commission.
Packets are available online at the City of Florence website (www.ci.florence.or.us)
Recognizing the changing needs and financial struggles related to housing in our community is a discussion to which we can all contribute — and eventually establish a level of livability we can all be proud of.